The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican makes an excellent Bible reading for children, including a valuable teaching lesson about the importance of intention to genuine devotion. Found in Luke 18:9-14, the story conveys how a self-important Pharisee, who is boastful of following a good life, fails to pray genuinely. Instead, he distracts others from praying by bragging of his piety. On the other hand, a publican, also known as a tax collector, prays genuinely and humbly despite the wrongness of his vocation in the context of the Bible story.
A Memory Game
After reading the parable together and discussing it, wrap up the lesson with a group-wide recitation from memory. You can make the recitation more dynamic and interesting by arranging the students into a circle and tossing a rubber ball around the circle. Start out by reciting the first line of the story, yourself, and then throw the ball to a student. That student must continue the story and then pass the ball along, continuing until you reach the end of the parable. If your congregation values precise memorisation as part of Bible study, this is an effective way of committing text to memory. Otherwise, it makes a great way of refreshing the essence of the story.
Especially for younger children, involving their whole bodies in an activity can help them to relate to it and deepen their understanding. To help children understand humility, talk about what the Pharisee did to pray and what the publican did, physically. Let the children practice bowing down, and encourage them to notice the feeling of the action. Ask them whether there is any emotional or spiritual feeling to bowing. To aid in discussion, ask students if they would want to bow down to their worst enemy, to their best friend or to their parents. Discuss how Christians do not usually bow down to express their humility and let the children brainstorm other behaviours that reflect humility.
Using the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican as inspiration, encourage each child to think about his own understanding of humility. If you have older children, let them write their definition of humility on a scrap of paper. Shuffle the papers and redistribute them, letting the class share their ideas with a layer of anonymity, ideal for drawing out shy students. After reading all of the definitions, distribute paper and crayons or coloured pencils so the students can draw pictures that symbolise humility. Encourage the students to be creative, letting the picture serve as a reminder of what true humility means to them. Remind them that, as the parable points out, humility is not necessarily about outward appearances.